Consumer confidence plunged in May, more long-term jobless to be cut loose

The news from today’s economic indicators was mostly negative, although one key report may have a silver lining.  CNBC’s Diana Olick reports that the new S&P/Case Shiller report shows that home prices hit a new low in the first quarter, but that signs within the data suggest that we may have finally found a bottom in the market:


All three “headline composites” of the latest and widely watched S&P/Case Shiller home price indices ended the first quarter of 2012 at new post-crisis lows.

But one of the authors of the indices, Robert Shiller, told CNBC Tuesday: “We have encouraging signs in the market, we are seeing some signs of hope.”

His cohort, S&P’s David Blitzer, agreed. “Digging into the details, it’s a whole lot better than the headlines,” he said in the same interview.

Finally, index co-author Karl Case explained: “We lag, and the indicators for the last three, four months on the quantity side have been real positive, so we look like a bottom. You have to pick to find real negatives.”

I wrote about where the bottom might be found last summer, almost a year ago.  If one relinked housing prices to inflation and accounted for the asset decline in the collapse of the bubble, I figured that the Case Shiller index bottom would be close to 128.1.  That’s about where Q1’s index is now.  Olick notes that construction has perked up a bit in markets like Las Vegas and Phoenix, where the collapse hit home values hardest and where inventories have finally declined to rational levels, or at least approaching them.

Unfortunately, other economic indicators out today suggest that demand may not pick up again soon, in housing markets or other areas.  Consumer confidence in May suffered the biggest drop in eight months, going the opposite directions economists expected:


Americans confidence in the economy suffered the biggest drop in eight months as worries about the weak jobs, housing and stock markets rattled them again. The decline comes after a few months of optimism amid some positive economic news.

The Conference Board, a private research group, said on Tuesday that its Consumer Confidence Index now stands at 64.9, down from a revised 68.7 in April. With gas prices falling, Americans were expected to push the measure to 70, according to analysts polled by FactSet.

But the May figure, which represents the biggest drop since October 2011 when the measure fell about 6 points, shows that consumers need more encouraging economic signs before their concerns start to dissipate. Americans remain worried about slow hiring, declining home values, big drops in the stock market and a worsening European economy that they fear will negatively impact the U.S.

“Consumers were less positive about current business and labor market conditions, and they were more pessimistic about the short-term outlook,” said Lynn Franco, director of economic indicators at The Conference Board.

On top of that, the New York Times reports that hundreds of thousands of people currently on jobless benefits will lose those subsidies soon.  It’s unclear if this is separate from reports last month of the same issue, or merely an extension of the same data.  Either way, it will mean lower consumer spending and more people dropping completely out of the workforce figures.


CNBC’s Patti Domm warns that June will be a turning point for the economy:

There are many worries, but there are three main themes where investors are focused.

The first is Greece and fears a sloppy euro exit would trigger a breakdown of the euro zone. The Chinese economy and the ability of leaders there to engineer a soft landing is also a major concern.

And finally, the idea that the U.S. economy, on its shaky road to recovery, could be derailed by outside forces makes for heightened interest in U.S. data and also in the doings of the Federal Reserve, which holds an important meeting June 19 and 20.

If the consumer confidence numbers are any indication, that turning point may have already arrived.

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